from the Circuit Court of McHenry County, No. 15-L-163
Honorable Michael A. Caldwell, Judge, Presiding.
JUSTICE SCHOSTOK delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Justices Zenoff and Jorgensen concurred in the
judgment and opinion.
1 This case involves a family of five children whose parents
owned substantial amounts of farmland in McHenry County. The
mother preceded the father in death. After the father died,
three children filed a probate action (against the other
siblings, an accountant, and an attorney) contesting the
father's will and trust and asserting other civil claims.
The subject of this appeal is a claim for aiding and abetting
tortious interference with inheritance expectancy, which was
filed by one of the children, Steven Johnson, against the
attorney, Jay K. Filler, who prepared the will and trust that
was the subject of the probate action. Following a settlement
between the siblings in the probate action, the trial court
dismissed Steven's claim against Filler. Steven appeals
from that order. We affirm.
3 Lawrence and Ruth Johnson had five children: Larry,
Marjorie, Steven, Carolyn, and Julie. Lawrence and Ruth each
owned a one-half interest as tenants in common in 410 acres
of farmland in McHenry County, known as Johnson Farms, which
they had titled in a trust. A 116-acre parcel was known as
the "Home Farm." Ruth died on July 28, 2001. Under
the terms of Ruth's trust, she left her one-half interest
in Johnson Farms to her children with a life estate for
Lawrence. Ruth's trust further specified that, upon
Lawrence's death, Steven would own Ruth's one-half
interest in the Home Farm, and the remaining interest in
Johnson Farms was to be distributed to all five children
equally. Ruth's trust named Lawrence and Carolyn as
cotrustees. Ruth's trust named Lawrence as executor and
"Carolyn *** and *** Larry *** each in the order named,
as [successor] executor."
4 The record indicates that Lawrence had a will dated October
17, 2011. In that will, there was a provision titled
"Article 2, Gifts on My Death." Under section 2.1
of article 2, titled "Gifts of Tangible Personal
Property," Lawrence bequeathed all his tangible personal
property in equal shares to all his children. Under section
2.2, titled "Gift of Balance," Lawrence, after
making other specific bequests, stated as follows:
"C. I give the balance of my estate equally among my
children Julie ***, Carolyn ***, Marjorie ***, and Larry ***.
D. I have intentionally not provided for distribution under
this Will for my son Steven ***, as I have made substantial
gifts to him over the years and *** feel that he has been
fairly and adequately compensated."
5 On June 11, 2013, Lawrence executed a quitclaim deed,
drafted by Filler, conveying his one-half interest in the
Home Farm to his grandson, James Schulz Jr. (Carolyn's
son). At about the same time, Lawrence attempted to sell
Ruth's one-half interest in the Home Farm, conveyed under
Ruth's trust, to James. The record contains two letters
related to this attempted conveyance. In a June 17, 2013,
letter from Filler to Larry, Filler stated that he had
multiple conversations with Lawrence regarding the sale of
the Home Farm to James, that there was a bona fide
appraisal of Ruth's one-half interest, and that Lawrence
was requesting that Larry either consent to the sale or
resign as cotrustee of Ruth's trust. In a June 27, 2013,
letter from Filler to Larry's attorney, Filler relied on
language in Ruth's trust that gave the trustees the power
to sell any real property contained in the trust. Filler
stated in the letter that, under that provision, he
"believe[d] the Trustees do, in fact, have power to sell
the property as proposed." Filler also stated that,
since the other one-half interest (Lawrence's interest)
was not going to be conveyed to Steven, the sale of
Ruth's share to James was "a logical step to avoid
future conflict." However, Larry did not agree, and the
sale was never consummated.
6 In a last will and testament dated August 22, 2013, drafted
by Filler, Lawrence revoked any prior wills and codicils.
Lawrence then bequeathed all his farming equipment and
machinery to James. All the remaining personal property was
bequeathed to Julie and Carolyn. In his trust, also dated
August 22, 2013, Lawrence, after making other specific
bequests, left the remainder of his trust estate to Julie and
Carolyn, and "intentionally omitted any distribution
hereunder to my children, Marjorie ***, Larry ***, and
Steven, as they have chosen lifestyles apart from mine."
Lawrence died on October 2, 2014.
7 On May 22, 2015, Larry, Marjorie, and Steven filed a
complaint against Carolyn, Julie, and James, alleging claims
based on undue influence, tortious interference with
expectancy, aiding and abetting tortious interference with
expectancy, conspiracy, breach of fiduciary duty, rescission,
and constructive fraud. The complaint also alleged claims for
aiding and abetting tortious interference with inheritance
expectancy and legal malpractice against Filler. Following
motions and argument, the complaint, as well as first and
second amended complaints, were dismissed.
8 About the same time that Steven filed his May 2015
complaint, he filed a petition in a consolidated probate
action, challenging the validity of the 2013 will and trust.
On February 28, 2017, Steven entered into a settlement
agreement with Carolyn, Julie, and James and dismissed with
prejudice his petition in the probate action and his claims
in the present action against Carolyn, Julie, and James.
However, the agreement specifically reserved Steven's
claims against Filler and David O'Brien, Lawrence's
accountant and financial adviser.
9 On February 10, 2017, Steven filed a third amended
complaint, separate from Larry and Marjorie, the dismissal of
which is the subject of this appeal. Steven's third
amended complaint stated claims against Filler and
O'Brien. This appeal concerns count I, a claim against
Filler for aiding and abetting Carolyn's tortious
interference with inheritance expectancy. Specifically,
Steven alleged that Carolyn tortiously interfered with his
inheritance expectancy by exerting undue influence over
Lawrence, causing Lawrence to (1) convey his one-half
interest in the Home Farm to James, (2) execute the 2013 will
that disinherited Steven, and (3) attempt to sell Ruth's
interest in the Home Farm to James. Steven alleged that
Filler aided and abetted Carolyn's tortious interference
with his inheritance by (1) drafting the 2013 ...